Because of technology and the constant demands of the modern workplace we can affirm that boundaries of time and distance have disappeared. The promise that with the advancement of technology we all would have worked less and smarter has miserably failed as data show we all work on average 20% more because constantly connected to mobile devices. This hyper vigilance leads us into an unstoppable rhythm of doing one thing after another or multiple things at the same time that continuously interrupt our train of thoughts, get in the way of our natural rhythms and do not allow to follow the natural conclusion or course of events. Just think for example how impatience we get if our internet connection slows down or how many times we refresh our inbox in search of that “important” message. Do we take into account the need for time to think or digest an information? Or do we think in terms of instantaneous reaction? Our technology became so fast that has surpassed the speed of our consciousness. It is fair to ask: if we constantly operate at a speed faster than our consciousness who is in the driver seat of our lives?

I closed my TEDx talk on the professions of the future with a poem from The Whisper titled Leader. Here a couple of verses from it:

You will never know till you stand up

There is enough space within you

Space to contain the multitudes

Stand up

Speak up

Say no

No to fragmentation

No to moving faster

Slow down…

When we constantly and chronically deny to ourselves and others the time to slow down, even our devices are not allowed to slow down, where do we find the time for our own, for introspection and for reflection? 

Those barriers of time and distance, which disappeared in the always-connected era, kept us somehow safe (or safer). With their disappearance and not knowing how to deal with constant demands, we erect walls, barriers. Those apparently protective walls are in reality walls of separation, borders to keep the world out. Not only they keep the world out but keep pieces of ourselves in place and separated from the other pieces. Walls under which we shrink in smaller finite roles we play. The me at work separated from the social me, the father separated from the business executive… We divide ourselves and everything else in fragmented pieces that like containers can be moved, plugged and traded.

Let’s do not simply victimise ourselves, this isn’t just the result of technology or external forces, but also the result of our own collaboration with them. We have lost the capacity to say NO. All we are taught is how to say YES. The only NOs we end up saying are the result of resistance, exhaustion, overload but not those that come from listening to what we really want. We keep telling people to work in teams, collaborate, interact and the value of interdependence but do not remind them the importance of being able to say NO. We teach in MBAs and management seminars how to say YES with enthusiasm, how to lean in. We are wired for safety, it is a primal instinct, a basic need and our brains go in overload thinking and trying to keep us safe while saying yes to everyone and everything.

When we ignore chronically our needs to slow down, to say NO, the subtle cues of our body become sickness, accidents, burnout, or we become cynical and refuse to bond with others. Neglecting our NO builds inner barriers that keep us from our wisdom. To restore the balance we need to re-establish integrity of our divided life and participate wholeheartedly both at work and in life. This is often (too often) misunderstood with saying YES to everything. In the urge to belong we adapt and adopt the prevailing rules that demand of us to do more and do it faster. The paradox is that with the emphasis on collaboration we need to get closer to others and without the proper boundaries we build even higher walls. As a result we compete even more since we do not feel safe.

Bottom line, do you wonder why conflicts increase, collaboration fails, team work is a nightmare? Simple we mixed up barriers with boundaries because we do not know how to say a very simple word: NO.

Do you want to improve collaboration and team work? Do you want to feel better, more integrated and less fragmented? Start to learn how to say NO.

Here a few tips:

  1. Find the NO that liberates the YES to your needs and values. Ask yourself what NO do you need to say to outer requests so to be able to say YES to your own needs.
  2. Create time for inner inquiry and learn about your body time. We are a complex system of chemical and hormonal reactions. Our body has a natural rhythm responsible for our whole well-being.
  3. Set aside “boundary time”. You do not need any reason, justification or apology for it.

Having clear boundaries is a necessity to collaboration. They teach us how to protect ourselves rather than chronically defend. When we defend ourselves we stuck against barriers for learnings, while in the safety of boundaries we open up to collaboration. True collaboration can only happen when we respect individual needs and boundaries, our own and others.